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As far as we know, and especially in politics, there is always an exception to the commonly accepted rule. In the analysis of party systems, Katz and Mair studied the changes in models of party organizations and established a new kind of party, the Cartel Party, which was born in the 70’s. The purpose of this article is to compare the main characteristics of the Cartel Party with the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP), an organization with 40 years of history and that has become vital on the political map of Catalonia. The comparison is fair, since we are not facing a residual or marginal part of the Catalan political map. Sartori classifies political parties according to their relevance, to be able to make more rigorous analyzes. To be classified as relevant, one of these three points must be satisfied: (1) Possibility of forming a government, (2) Veto capacity, (3) Coalition capacity. After the regional elections of September 27, 2015, it is clear CUP meets at least the third point.

“Parties are to be classified and understood on the basis of their relationship with civil society” (Katz and Mair 1995, 5), while the process of changing models of party organization depends not only on civil society and its changes, but also on technological developments and the relationship between the state and parties. This last relation is the main cause of the appearance of the Cartel Party. CUP becomes a traditional party in the sense that it has existed for more than 40 years[1], as much as the beginning of the Cartel Party, according to Katz and Mair, but it has always been on the edge of conventional politics, since they are organized as an assembly and they are municipalist. In fact, CUP is the confluence of the Catalan Left Independentist tradition, whose candidatures were organized autonomously before forming a communal organization. Unlike the Cartel Parties, the local assemblies rule over the party headquarters. One of the main fundamental characteristics of the Cartel Party, following the Catch-All Parties, is the professionalization of politics and the leadership personalization: this one fells legitimated to govern over the local’s power, who are becoming less necessary intermediaries for decision making. This structure, so distant from the system of Mass Parties is known as atomic structure. CUP has been characterized by acting completely upside down from this party system. Its internal structure is the following one:

First, there are Local Assemblies, which work autonomously and make their own decisions through militancy. Then it comes the Territorial Assemblies (13 in all the Catalan Countries), that coordinates and facilitates the national decisions. Finally, there is the National Assembly, which approve general and strategic actions and choose the National Secretariat. All the assemblies are formed by the militancy, and all the decisions are taken by them. Inside the National Assembly there is the Political National Council, that acts as a decision-making body between all the assemblies, and it is formed by the Territorial Assemblies and the National Secretariat. This last one manages the daily work and they execute the decisions (but not decide). This structure and the way CUP works makes the decision making much slower, and has more than once surprised its methodology among the Catalan population and parties.


The concept of doing politics is much different between CUP and the Cartel Party. When there exists professionalization, “stability becomes more important than triumph; politics become a job rather than a vocation” (Katz and Mair 1995, 23). Hence, we found politicians anchored in the power and therefore prefer their job stability rather than defend their political program, and much less their ideology. In the case of CUP, the deputies can only stay one legislature, and the members of the National Secretariat 4 years, so it doesn’t exist the leadership we commonly understand by. Obviously, this fact produces less adaptation capacity, but not comfortable agreements looking for job security, and even less a reduction of ideology.

As we have said, the loss of ideology in the Cartel Party doesn’t exist when we talk about CUP. In fact, their horizon has always been the same: independència, socialime i Països Catalans[2]. In the evolutionary study of the model party organization, we can see how ideology becomes the strongest characteristic in the Mass Parties. They defended the social class interests and they had a huge group of people behind them. This is not the CUP’s model either. The idea of class solidarity continues to be present in the CUP’s discourse, but we can observe in the next graph how their voters come from different social classes.


The main characteristic of the Cartel Party is the fact that they act as a cartel, in the way they put barriers in the entrance of new parliamentary competitors, through increasingly State’s subsidies[3]. It is true CUP receives them, like all parliamentary parties, but this can’t be a reason to classify them as a Cartel Party, since CUP gets to Parliament in 2012, while they found this distribution system. In addition, putting aside the subsidies, the conventional parties incur bank’s debts, while CUP is once again the exception. All they possess comes from particulars, councilors and deputies’ donations, militants’ contributions and the Parliament subside, which arise 1.4 M € in 2016.




  •  Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP). “Comptes clars”. 2016. Available on:
  • Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP). “Memòria abreujada i consolidada de la CUP”. December 2016. Available on:
  • Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS). Estudio nº 3113. “Postelectoral de Cataluña. Elecciones Autonómicas 2015”. 2015.
  • Katz, Richard S; Mair, Peter. 1995. “Changing models of party organization and party democracy: the Emergence of the Cartel Party”. Party Politics vol. 1 no. 1: 5-28.



[1] To be more accurate, it must be said that the initials of “CUP” exist since 1991. The history of the Catalan Left Independentist tradition becomes popular after the coalition of PSAN (Partit Socialista d’Alliberament Nacional) and IPC (Independentistes dels Països Catalans), who formed MDT (Moviment de Defensa de la Terra) in 1984, who, at the same time, created AMEI (Assemblea Municipal de l’Esquerra Independentista), an organization that was born to organize all the municipal candidacies in the Catalan Countries. Some years later, AMEI becomes CUP. It is important to emphasize that CUP is a municipalist organization; CUP appeared in Parliament in 2012, after a hard debate of membership.

[2] Independence, socialism and Catalan Countries.

[3] See: